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Full text of "Statutes and rules for the British Museum : made by the Trustees in pursuance of the Act of Incorporation 26 George II, Cap. 22, ss. xv, 12th December 1908"

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Natural History Museum Library 



2, 3, 4, 5 OCTOBER 1877 

On the System of Classifying Books on the 
Shelves followed at the 
British Museum 



Superintendent of tlie Reading-Room 
British Museum 



2, 3, 4, 5 OCTOBER 1877 

On the System of Classifying Books on the 
Shelves followed at the 
British Museum 

Superintendent of tfie Reading-Room 
British Museum 



HE purpose of this paper is to 
present a brief account of the 
system followed in the classifica- 
tion of books on the shelves of the British 
Museum library. 

It will be understood that this does not 
amount to an enumeration of all the sub- 
jects which might suitably be recognized 
as distinct in a classified catalogue, but 
only of such as possess sufficient impor- 
tance to occupy at least one book-press in 
the library. 


Subjects which from a philosophical 
point of view might properly be separated, 
must in actual library arrangements fre- 
quently be combined for want of room. 

It is further to be borne in mind that 
the classification now to be described 
does not in absolute strictness apply to 
the entire library, but to the acquisitions 
— comprising, however, nearly four-fifths 
of the whole— made since Sir Anthony 
Panizzi's accession to office as keeper of 
the printed books. The books in Mon- 
tague House were indeed scientifically 
arranged on their removal to the new 
premises, but space was then wanting to 
carry out the views entertained by the 
officer principally entrusted with their ar- 
rangement — the late Mr. Thomas Watts, a 
gentleman of prodigious memory and ency- 
clopaedic learning. Mr. Watts subsequently 


obtained space more in correspondence 
with the comprehensiveness of his ideas, 
and the Museum library will bear the im- 
press of his mind for all ages. With his name 
will be associated that of the late keeper, 
Mr. Rye, for many years his coadjutor, 
and whose own independent arrangement 
of the Grenville library and the reference- 
library of the reading-room will always 
be cited as models for the disposition of 
limited collections. I trust to be excused 
this brief reference to gentlemen prema- 
turely lost to our profession — the former by 
death, the latter by indisposition, brought 
on, it is to be feared, by over-application to 
his official duties. To the example of the 
former and the instruction of the latter I 
am indebted for whatever claim I may 
have to address you on a subject to which 
I can contribute little of my own. 


The classification of a great library is 
equivalent to a classification of human 
knowledge, and may, if men please, be- 
come the standard or symbol of conflicting 
schools of thought. It might, for example, 
be plausibly maintained that knowledge, 
and therefore the library, should begin with 
the definition of man's relation to the un- 
seen powers around him — that is, with 
Natural Theology. Or with man himself as 
the unit of all things human — that is, with 
Anthropology. Or, on Nature's own pattern, 
with the most rudimentary forms of exis- 
tence. Hence, as we heard yesterday from 
the distinguished gentleman who here re- 
presents the fifth part of the world, the 
reading-room library at Melbourne be- 
gins with works on the subject of Sponges. 
Fortunately for the neutral bibliographer, 
there exists a book which not only holds 


in civilized countries a place unique among 
books, but which has further established its 
claim to precedence by the practical test of 
being the first to get itself printed. The 
Museum classification accordingly begins 
with the Bible, and I venture to express 
the opinion that every sound classification 
will do the same. 

When the next question emerges, how 
to arrange the Bible itself, we alight at 
once upon a few simple principles, which, 
with the necessary modifications, will prove 
applicable throughout. It is obvious that 
entire Bibles should precede parts of 
Bibles; that originals should precede 
translations ; the more ancient originals, the 
more recent ; and Bibles in both the ori- 
ginal tongues those in one only. We thus 
obtain the following arrangement at start- 
ing : Polyglots, Hebrew Bibles, Greek 


Bibles. It is equally apparent that Greek 
cannot be fitly succeeded by any tongue 
but Latin ; that Latin is most naturally 
followed by its modern derivatives ; that 
these draw after them the other European 
languages in due order; the Slavonic 
forming a link with the Oriental, which in 
their turn usher in the African, American, 
and Polynesian. 

Concordances, consisting of the words 
of the Bible detached from their context, 
form a convenient link with Commentaries. 
The latter fall into two principal sections, 
according as they relate to Scripture in its 
entirety or to some particular part. In ar- 
ranging the former, the erudite labours of 
scholars are, as far as possible, kept apart 
from the popular illustrative literature of 
modern days. The order of commentaries 
on separate books must, of course, cor- 


respond with that of the books themselves 
in the canon of the Bible. 

Next succeeds the very important class 
of literature representing the Bible in con- 
tact with society through the medium 
of the Church. The most obvious form 
of this relation is the liturgical. Litur- 
gies accordingly succeed Scripture in the 
Museum arrangement, precedence being 
given to the various Churches in the order 
of their antiquity. A minor but very 
extensive class of Liturgy, the Psalm and 
Hymn, naturally follows as an appendix, 
preceding Private and Family Devotion, 
which prefaces works on liturgical subjects 
in general. The next great department 
of this class of literature ensues in the 
shape of Creeds and Catechisms. These 
pass into formal expositions of dogmatic 
theology, including theological libraries; 


which lead to the collected works of di- 
vines, commencing with the Fathers. The 
same order is observed here as in the 
arrangement of the Bible in its various 
languages : the Greek Fathers leading to 
the Latin, the Latin to the divines of the 
nations speaking languages derived from 
the Latin, and these to the Teutonic 
nations, a division practically equivalent to 
one into Catholic and Protestant. The 
general theological literature of each nation 
follows in the same order, excluding works 
treating of special theological questions, 
but including all the immense mass of 
printed material relating to the Reforma- 
tion and the controversies resulting from 
it down to the present day. With ;these 
the subject of General Theology may be 
deemed concluded, and we enter not only 
upon a fresh department, but upon a fresh 

numeration. The book -presses embracing 
the subjects hitherto described all bear 
numbers commencing with 3000. With 
the new department 4000 commences, and 
the same remark, mutatis mutandis, is appli- 
cable to every succeeding principal division. 
I must pass very lightly over the numerous 
sections of this second section. Beginning 
with the fundamental questions of the be- 
ing of a God and the truth of Christianity, 
it embraces every special question which 
has formed the subject of discussion among 
Christians, in the order which commended 
itself as most logical to the original de- 
signer of the arrangement. These con- 
troversies conduct to the common ground 
of Religious Devotion and Contemplation, 
including the important departments of 
Tracts and Religious Fiction ; and these to 
devotion in its hortatory form — i.e., Ser- 

mons, classified on the same linguistic 
principle as Scripture, and divided into the 
great sections of collected discourses and 
separate sermons. With these the subject 
of specifically Christian Theology termi- 
nates, and is succeeded by the great and 
growing department of Mythology and 
non-Christian Religion. Judaism follows, 
leading by an easy transition to Church 
History. A few words on the arrangement 
of this section will save much repetition, 
as the principle here exemplified is never 
departed from. It demonstrates the ad- 
vantage of beginning with a subject like the 
Bible, respecting the correct arrangement 
of which there can be no dispute, and 
which serves as a norm for all the rest. 
As the Bible necessarily commenced with 
Polyglots, so Church History begins with 
General Church History; the various 


nations succeed in their linguistic, which 
is practically also their geographical order, 
provision being, of course, made for the 
intercalation of sub-sections where neces- 
sary, as for instance one on English Non- 
conformity. Polynesia, as the last member 
of this arrangement, naturally introduces 
the next subject — Missions — which in turn 
brings on Religious Orders, including Free- 
masonry. Religious Biography follows, 
arranged on the same principle as Religious 
History, which is always carried out wher- 
ever practicable. Finally, the whole class 
is concluded by the small but important 
division of Religious Bibliography. 

Divine Law is evidently most fitly suc- 
ceeded by Human Law, or Jurisprudence. 
The fulness with which the preceding 
section has been treated will enable me 
to pass very cursorily over this and its 

successors. I may be pardoned, however, 
one remark suggested by the introduc- 
tion of a new division— that in the classifi- 
cation of a library it should be considered 
whether the scope of the collection is 
special or general. In arranging a mere 
collection of Law Books it would be proper 
to commence with works treating of the 
general principles of Jurisprudence. In 
arranging a great library, regard must be 
had to the harmonious connexion of the 
parts, and accordingly the Museum ar- 
rangement commences with Ecclesiastical 
Law as the natural sequel of Theology. 
Bulls, Councils, Canon-Law and Modern 
Church- Law introduce the great section of 
Roman Law. Oriental Law follows, the 
Laws of the Continental Nations succeed in 
the order previously explained, and thus 
room is only found for General Jurispru- 


dence at a comparatively late period, at the 
beginning of the numeral series 6000. It 
brings after it such minor subjects as 
Prison-Discipline and Forensic Medicine. 
The remaining space of the section is 
occupied by the Law of the English-speak- 
ing nations, which requires most minute 

Next to Divinity and Law, the third rank 
among the pursuits of the human mind 
was anciently assigned to Medicine. We 
have learned to recognize that Medicine, 
however practically important, ranks scien- 
tifically only as a department of Biology. 
The next section, accordingly, commences 
with general Natural History, continuing 
through the natural kingdoms of Botany, 
Geology, and Zoology, including Veteri- 
nary Surgery, with their appropriate sub- 
divisions, and then embracing Medicine — 



first in its general aspect, as medical 
principle and practice ; then in its great 
leading divisions of Physiology, Patho- 
logy, Therapeutics, &c. ; again, as Special 
Pathology ; finally, in such comparative 
minutiae as professional controversies and 
bills of mortality. The divisions of Art — 
the next class — are simple and obvious. 
They may be enumerated as Archaeology, 
Costumes, Numismatics, Architecture, 
Painting, Sculpture, first as treated col- 
lectively, and then as treated separately ; 
and, finally, Music. Fine Art is suc- 
ceeded by Useful Art, and the interval 
bridged over by Field-Sports, Games of 
Chance, and Games of Skill. No sub- 
division of the Useful Arts has been at- 
tempted beyond the separation of Cookery 
and Domestic Economy from the rest, and 
the addition of two special sections, one 


for the catalogues of industrial exhibitions, 
the other for the voluminous and impor- 
tant publications of the South Kensington 

The extensive and miscellaneous di- 
vision which succeeds may, perhaps, best 
be defined under the head of Philosophy, 
alike in its scientific principles and in its 
application to human life. Commencing 
with Political Philosophy, or the Science 
of Government, it runs rapidly through 
the politics of the various nations, in the 
geographical order previously detailed, 
passes into Political Economy, with the 
allied subjects of Finance, Commerce, and 
Social Science; thence into Education, 
and, by the minor morals so intimately 
allied with the latter subject, into Ethics, 
including works on the condition of 
Woman, Peace, Temperance, and similar 


topics. Speculative Philosophy succeeds, 
introducing Mathematics, on which hangs 
the great department of Applied Mathe- 
matics, including all physical sciences ex- 
cept the biological. The various branches 
are carefully discriminated, and room is 
found among them for the so-called Occult 
Sciences, and for Military and Naval 
matters, the series appropriately conclud- 
ing with Chemistry, or the science which 
aims at the resolution of all matter into its 
original elements. The remaining sections, 
though most important and extensive, are 
very simple in arrangement, and may be 
dismissed very briefly. They are : His- 
tory; Geography, with Voyages and Topo- 
graphy; Biography; Poetry and the 
Drama ; Belles Lettres, including Fiction ; 
and Philology. The arrangement is in- 
variably the same: collected works on 


each subject being placed first, and a 
geographical order being adopted for the 
rest when the conditions of the case 
allow. Genealogy is regarded as an ap- 
pendix to History ; Letters to Biography ; 
Elocution, with Literary Criticism and 
Bibliography, to Poetry and the Dramatic 
Art. The class of Belles Lettres is headed 
by Libraries and Cyclopaedias. 

It should be stated that the system here 
explained refers in the strictest sense only 
to works complete in themselves, and not 
to Periodicals, Academical Publications, 
and State Papers, which are placed sepa- 
rately. Although, however, these consti- 
tute distinct series, the principle of classi- 
fication is practically identical. The same 
remarks apply to the Oriental departments 
of the collection, the Grenville library, and 
the reference-library of the reading-room, 

Such is, in its main features, the system 
of book-press arrangement which I have 
undertaken to describe. I have no fear 
but that it will be pronounced in essentials 
logical and philosophical. It has un- 
doubtedly proved eminently convenient in 
practice. That it should be open to re- 
vision on some points is inevitable from 
the nature of things, and from two circum- 
stances more especially — its gradual deve- 
lopment as subject after subject was added 
to the library, and the degree in which 
it represents the idiosyncrasy of a single 
mind. Some minor oversights must be 
admitted. Geology, for example, should 
unquestionably have preceded Botany. I 
venture more extensive criticisms with 
hesitation, yet I cannot help remarking 
that I perceive no valid reason for the 
severance of so manifest a branch of His- 


tory as Biography from the parent stem 
by the intrusion of the entire department 
of Geography ; while it appears to me that 
the Useful Arts would have formed, through 
Domestic Economy, a more natural sequel 
to Medicine than Fine Art, and in ar- 
ranging the latter department I should 
have assigned the last instead of the first 
place to Archaeology and its allied subjects. 
Forensic Medicine might also have been 
conveniently placed at the end of Law, to 
connect that subject with Natural Science. 
I should further feel much inclined to 
form a class for Encyclopaedias immedi- 
ately after Philology ; both because dic- 
tionaries of general knowledge seem legiti- 
mate successors to dictionaries of languages, 
and that the end of the classification might 
be answerable in dignity to the beginning. 
I am aware how much room for diversity 


of opinion may exist on these and similar 
points. On a more serious defect there 
can be no difference of opinion, but it is a 
defect inherent in all finite things. In an 
ideal classification by book-press one sepa- 
rate press, at least, would be provided for 
each subject, however minute. But an ideal 
library would also have room for each sub- 
division. We cannot have the ideal classi- 
fication without the ideal library, and, al- 
though I hazard nothing in saying that, 
thanks to the genius of the designer, Sir 
Anthony Panizzi, economy of space in the 
new buildings of the Museum has been 
carried to the utmost extent conceivable, 
space is still insufficient to provide a dis- 
tinct niche for every well-marked division 
of a subject. Upwards of five hundred 
such subdivisions are provided for ; never- 
theless this large number is not exhaus- 


tive. Without such an exhaustive dis- 
tribution, the actual classification on the 
shelves, which is all I have undertaken to 
describe here, can never be conterminous 
with the ideal classification of the study. 
If, however, the Museum library has been 
unable to achieve an infinity of space, it 
has secured a practically indefinite nume- 
rical expansiveness by the elastic system 
referred to in our President's address, in 
further illustration of which I may be al- 
lowed a few words. On the removal of the 
books from Montague House, about 1838, 
the cumbrous and antiquated, but I imagine 
then nearly universal system of press-no- 
tation by Roman letters was exchanged 
for one by Arabic numerals.* These num- 

* It deserves to be recorded that at this period, 
and for some time afterwards, books were not 


bers were nevertheless consecutive, and 
thus no space was left for insertions. 
Supposing, for example, that you have 
three presses standing together, numbered 
i, 2, and 3, and respectively occupied by 
Botany, Horticulture, and Agriculture, it 
is clear that when your press of Botany 
is full, you must either duplicate your 
No. i, or commence your subject afresh 
with No. 4. Mr. Watts, however, set his 
numbers loose, leaving a set of spare num- 
bers after each, for future employment, 
proportioned to the probable extent of the 
subject. Thus, in the case supposed, 
while his Botany would still have been 1, 
his Horticulture might have been 10, and 

labelled externally, but merely press-marked inside 
the covers. When labels were introduced, at the 
suggestion of Mr. Winter Jones, the printing of 
the first set cost ^800. 

2 7 

his Agriculture 15. When more room is 
wanted for Botany, the other two subjects 
are moved one press further on, leaving 
the press formerly occupied by Horticulture 
vacant for the Botanical additions. The 
numbering of the presses is altered, but 
not the numbering of the books, and the 
catalogue is not interfered with. The 
respective subjects thus never get out of 
due numerical succession; and when, on 
the opening of the new library in 1857, 
the books thus numbered were brought 
from their former confined quarters, and 
spread over a far larger area, the removal 
was effected without the alteration of a 
single press-mark. As the books in any 
one press may thus come to occupy an- 
other, it is, as observed by Mr. Winter 
Jones, essential that all presses should be 
exactly of the same dimensions. 


There is one incidental circumstance con- 
nected with the Museum press-arrange- 
ment of such importance that I may hope 
to be allowed a few words respecting it, 
although I adverted to it in the course 
of the discussion yesterday. I allude to 
the fourth copy of the catalogue. It is 
generally known that the titles of books 
catalogued at the Museum are transcribed 
trebly on carbonic tissue-paper by a mani- 
fold writer, and that the catalogue is thus 
kept up in triplicate. But I suspect it 
was not generally known until the delivery 
of the President's address that a fourth 
copy is taken at the same time. These 
fourth slips are kept in boxes, and then 
arranged, not in alphabetical order as in 
the catalogue, but according to the posi- 
tion of the books upon the shelves. Now, 
as each shelf is restricted to a single sub- 

2 9 

ject, it follows that an arrangement by 
shelves is tantamount to an arrangement 
by subjects— that is, a classed catalogue. 
A great deal, of course, remains to be 
done both in the way of subdivision and 
of incorporation ; it is nevertheless the 
fact that — thanks to the foresight of 
Sir Anthony Panizzi and Mr. Winter 
Jones — the foundation of a classed In- 
dex to Universal Literature has been laid 
by simply putting away titles as fast as 
transcribed, without the nation having 
hitherto incurred any cost beyond that of 
the pasteboard boxes. The apparently 
gigantic task being thus far simplified, I 
earnestly trust that public aid may be 
forthcoming for its completion, ere the 
accumulation of titles shall have rendered 
it too arduous. Fully sympathizing with 
our friend Mr. Axon's wish to see the 


Museum catalogue in print, I am yet averse 
to attempting to print it just as it stands : 
in the first place, because I regard the 
undertaking as beyond our strength ; and 
in the second place, because, although 
such a catalogue would tell the student at 
a distance what books by particular au- 
thors were in the library, it would not tell 
him what books on particular subjects 
existed there ; the latter, as it appears to 
me, being the more urgent necessity of 
the two. I should therefore be inclined 
to recommend the preparation of an 
abridged classified index, compiled from 
the fourth-copy slips I have been de- 
scribing, and its publication from time to 
time in sections severally complete in 
themselves, as affording the best means for 
a gradual solution of the problem. Most 
of these sections, I have little doubt, 


would by their sale nearly repay the ex- 
pense of publication, which a complete 
alphabetical catalogue of the library cer- 
tainly would not. These remarks, it will 
be perceived, coincide with those made 
yesterday by Mr. Vickers, which struck 
me as eminently sensible and practical. 

I have prepared a list of the subjects 
comprised in the classification of the 
Museum,* which I put in for your exami- 
nation. For a list of the principal sys- 
tems proposed for the classification of 
libraries, I may refer to Petzholdt's 
" Bibliotheca Bibliographica." It is in 
so far deficient that it necessarily con- 
tains no reference to the recent labours 

* See Appendix, " List of subjects of works in 
the British Museum library, according to the ar- 
rangement of books on the shelves." 

3 2 

of our American friends and colleagues, 
who, coming to the subject with unbiased 
minds and an inventive ingenuity and * 
fertility equalled by no other nation, have 
already done so much to advance the 
frontiers of the librarian's science.